Happy International Women’s Day! What is there not to celebrate in a day designed to showcase what women have done, are doing, and are capable of? Answer: the fact that missing from the picture is one very important element in the welfare of women.
When one looks at the welfare of any group in society, you cannot look at them in isolation. You can highlight problems, injustices and unfairnesses, but if you’re looking for solutions it’s important not to plump for options that just replace one problem with another.
I have always been appalled at the way women have been treated as second-class citizens. As a child I couldn’t make sense of why women had to change their surname when they got married. When the first wave of political correctness arrived and challenged our use of ‘he’ for certain jobs and ‘she’ for others, it made total sense for me. And I gradually came to realise just how male-dominated our world is, to the point where Harold Wilson’s quip that Margaret Thatcher was ‘the best man for the job’ seemed to hit the nail bang on the head.
I even had an economic heroine in Anita Roddick, the founder of The Body Shop who took female values into the stuffy male world of business. I’d love to have been a fly on the wall when she told her pinstripe-suited male financial colleagues ‘If the only way to keep our share price high is to compromise our ethics, then the share price falls.’ She’s supposed to have said that on several occasions in different ways; I hope there were defibrillators at the ready.
So let’s celebrate women, but let’s not forget that the population is roughly 50:50 men and women. I know women are slightly in the majority, and there are some people who don’t like to be defined by the binary ‘male or female’ distinction of gender. I respect that, just as I respect the fact that there are many men with a lot of femininity about them, and plenty of women with a lot of masculinity about them. It’s almost as if it’s a sliding spectrum in which almost all of us are in one category or the other, but many are close to the dividing line.
Which is why you can’t have International Women’s Day without also making it International Men’s Day. In fact why can’t it be International Equality Day? Here in Britain we have a newish political party called the Women’s Equality Party, but to me that’s a misnomer – either it’s the Women’s Party or it’s the Equality Party. What we want is equality of value between women and men.
For make no mistake, while it’s been absolutely right to correct injustices that have disadvantaged women for so many years (not just because they’re unfair but because they’ve robbed society of some great talents), doing so has left many men very unsure of their place in modern society. And that impacts adversely on women. A look at social media and gossip columns makes it clear that men are still by and large supposed to make the running in initiating relationships, yet one false move and they could be guilty of inappropriate behaviour. Women are allowed to be much more tactile with men than vice versa. There are all sorts of social issues, such as fathers’ rights to see children who are still presumed to go to the mother when marriages break up. I could go on.
Surely the society we should be striving for celebrates the glory of men and women? Yes, we are of equal value, but let’s not let the equality kill off the magical chemistry of burgeoning relationships. We need both testosterone and oestrogen in the boardrooms of industry, even if the clash of cultures sometimes needs to be carefully managed. In the days when feminism was known as ‘women’s lib’, I used to say ‘Women’s lib is men’s lib too’.
So on International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate women. And let’s celebrate men too. In fact let’s celebrate the glory of who people are, regardless of their gender.